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Preparing for the Chief’s Interview

Assistant Chief Bill Reilly (ret)

Who You Are

Don’t overlook this.  It may seem simplistic, but it is not. 

Are you an inside candidate or an external candidate? 

Are you male or female?

Are you local or from another part of the country?

Are you relatively young, old, or average-age for this position?

Are you associated with any particular groups or associations? 

What is your education background and police track record?

While we don’t often perform this type of assessment on ourselves (and the above list is not all-inclusive), the individuals who are interviewing will. They can’t help it; it is part of the perception process and it is a powerful force in how we influence others. 

So what do you do with this self-assessment? You get clear on the benefits of your attributes and make them your talking points on why you are the best candidate.

For example:

If you are relatively young you should emphasize your contemporary training and experience and your ability to better identify with younger officers as well as your intention to serve as chief for the long-term.

If you are relatively older than most who are pursuing the position, you get to emphasize your extensive experience, track record of achievements, and desire to mentor your successor from within the agency.

If you are average-age, a blend of the above will most likely work for you.

The Right Fit

There are three dimensions that are coming together in the chief’s interview.  The hiring decision makers, you (both of which were addressed above), and the agency.

Every police agency has its own unique culture. The selection of the chief will have a dramatic impact on that culture.  If the agency is running well and the chief is selected from inside the agency, the dramatic impact will be one of stability.  Individuals in the agency (the defining force of organizational culture) will be more likely to believe that “major” changes will not be taking place.  While this is not always the case, someone who has lived in that same culture for years, and possibly decades, will be more reluctant to change agency traditions.

For agency’s that have been troubled, a chief from outside the agency, and quite possibly from somewhere far away, will bring a “fresh set of eyes”.  What that really means is that they have not been living in the agency’s culture and are therefore more likely to question things that others take for granted. The temptation of many hiring decision-makers is to assume that changing that one person will automatically result in organizational improvement.  However, because of the strength of organizational culture and the new chief’s unfamiliarity with the agency and need to rely on internal members for answers, the chief will become assimilate into the culture to some degree.  Dramatic, sustained change is never simple.

Bringing the Three Elements Together in Your Interview

Be genuine. Yes, you must be prepared and some of your interview responses may seem uncomfortable, but you must be honest. To do anything else is a disservice to you, the community, and the police department.

Understand the wants. All of the stakeholders making the decision to hire you have wants. Go far beyond the hard data and facts when you do your research for your interview. Ideally you will want to speak to members of the business and residential communities to get a sense of the real concerns. If you are an external candidate and don’t know where to start, consider contacting the public library in the community you are seeking to be chief and ask a librarian for assistance in finding community information.

Look for the opportunities to bring improvement within the agency. Regardless of whether you are an internal or external candidate, three important sources of information are: current members of the agency, media reports regarding the agency, command staff members of neighboring agencies. All of these sources should provide insight to the agency’s current challenges and opportunities for improvement.

Lastly, convey hope.  Chiefs get hired when they are able to describe the optimistic future for the agency that will occur when they are in command. Just remember that the type of optimistic improvement you suggest must be based on your interviewer’s perspective of what is needed, not just your own.

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